How Do I Become a Clinician-Scientist?

A. Reed

A clinician-scientist is someone who enjoys combining clinical practice with research involvement in his or her respective field of scientific interest. He or she can be found teaching at a university, writing scholarly works, or leading a research project. Preparing to become a clinician-scientist will require you to train in a clinical expertise, engage thoroughly in research studies, and finish your doctorate (PhD). Clinician-scientists are typically employed as medical doctors, pharmacists, or advanced practice nurses.

Obtaining medical experience as a paramedic may help applicants become stronger candidates for a clinician-scientist position.
Obtaining medical experience as a paramedic may help applicants become stronger candidates for a clinician-scientist position.

Training and education to become a clinician-scientist typically begins with choosing a clinical field in which to practice. Even though this is most likely in medicine or nursing, there are several other fields from which to choose, such as pharmacology, medical technology, or dentistry. Certain careers in the social sciences also provide you with a similar opportunity such as psychology and social work. The career you decide upon will tend to determine your undergraduate major in college.

Your undergraduate college studies will reflect your clinician field such that, if you decide to practice as a registered nurse, you will typically begin by completing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you decide upon medicine or pharmacy, you will need to select an appropriate major that will not only prepare you for professional school, but will help you to build a strong foundation for your career as a scientist. While you may choose any major for medical school entry to become a clinician-scientist, it is best to decide upon a field of study expressing your particular scientific interest such as biochemistry, molecular biology, or neuroscience.

Gaining both clinical and research experiences early in your career will provide you with valuable opportunities for learning and give you an edge when preparing to apply to professional schools of medicine, pharmacy, and even psychology. When planning to practice in a healthcare field, it would benefit you to get exposure as a nursing assistant, paramedic, or surgical technician. Shadowing a doctor, psychologist, or physician assistant is another avenue for you to learn more and develop worthwhile connections that could eventually lead to a mentoring relationship, an impressive recommendation or reference for your curriculum vitae.

For those who are certain about choosing to become a clinician-scientist, interesting medical programs exist offering dual degree tracks leading to a doctorate degree. Physician-scientist programs combine training in medicine as well as scientific study, which culminates in obtaining the PhD. These competitive tracks are available in dentistry and general medicine, as well as osteopathic medicine. Combined degree tracks are also offered to pharmacy students, as certain schools allow for completion of the pharmacy degree while on the way to earning a PhD in pharmaceutical science. Such tracks are referred to as PharmD-PhD programs.

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